Have Intonation Problems? Try The Toothpick Trick!

This is my favorite tip of my entire Website.  If I had known this in the beginning it would have saved me YEARS of frustration.

An old guitarist saying is, "For every musical problem, there is a mechanical solution." Guitarists think nothing of putting clamps, capos, whammy bars, etc. on their guitars to correct problems and create effects. Maybe that's why I love the instrument so much.
Intonation problems are probably the hardest to figure out, especially for the beginner. I suffered with this particular problem for years before I finally had my saddle compensated by a repairman.

Intonation is the ability of your guitar to note out properly as you play up the neck. Most acoustic guitars are set up at the factory so the High E and the A strings are OK and the other 4 strings are maybe close to OK. The Low E string suffers the most & usually notes out sharp as you play higher & higher up the neck. Even if your guitar is set up really well to begin with, a change in string gauges, lower tunings, string brands, or age itself can change things a lot.

Arrow Shows Approximate Place To Put Toothpick
Lower Tuning Needed Two Toothpicks

Toothpick Trick

This is a little experiment to try to temporarily fix an intonation problem on the 6th or Low E string. Find a good quality hardwood toothpick (not like the free soft ones you usually get in a restaurant), break the point off so it won't hit the A string when you slide it in and place the toothpick under the Low E string approximately where the arrow shows in the picture. The diameter of the toothpick should be large enough that a friction fit will keep it there while playing. Now play the Low E string open and then at the 12th fret. If the 12th fret sounds too sharp, move the toothpick up the neck a little and try it again. Do the opposite if the 12th fret sounds flat. The 3rd fret or G tends to play flat so as usual a compromise must be made while adjusting things. After you get things where you want them, re-tune the Low E string and play!  This toothpick trick can actually be used on any string that notes out sharp at the 12th fret.  A very useful trick for lower tunings when the intonation changes.

After playing a while, if you like this new guitar...and it WILL seem like a NEW guitar, consider getting your saddle intonated by a competent repairman. This is also a good temporary trick to use if you're using someone else's guitar that has a bad set up or if you're going to record yourself and you want things to sound just right.

Bob, Gman ( o )==#

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